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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

What is Large Breed Puppy Food?

March 01, 2013 / (5) comments

Whenever I have an appointment with a large or giant breed puppy, I bring up the subject of large breed puppy foods. Puppies that are going to grow up to be big dogs are predisposed to developmental orthopedic diseases (DOD) like osteochondritis dissecans and hip and elbow dysplasia. (I use an adult weight of 55 pounds as my somewhat arbitrary division between medium and large dogs.) Nutrition, or to be precise, over-nutrition, is an important risk factor of DOD.

The physiological details can be a bit overwhelming, but I summarize the situation like this: Dogs are not supposed to be all that big (40 to 45 pounds is what tends to result when dogs mate without human intervention). Breeding for increased size forces them into an unnaturally rapid rate of growth, which pushes the ability of the skeletal system to mature normally over its limits. Developmental orthopedic diseases are the result.

The number one goal when it comes to feeding large breed puppies is to avoid overfeeding, particularly when it comes to calories. By restricting caloric intake slightly, we can slow the puppy’s rate of growth. They still get as big as they would otherwise; it just takes them a little longer to get there. Puppies fed in this way are also slim, which decreases the load that their maturing frames need to carry. Large breed puppy foods achieve these results by having a reduced fat content, and since fat is the most calorie-dense nutrient category in food, the diet is therefore somewhat restricted in calories.

In general, foods designed for large breed puppies have a fat content of between 8% and 12% on a dry matter basis while standard puppy foods often contain between 10% and 25% fat. Of course, the benefits of fat and calorie restriction can be completely undone if a dog eats too much of the food. Large breed puppies should almost invariably be fed several measured meals throughout the day rather than being allowed to eat free choice.

Getting too much calcium in the diet and eating foods with a high calcium to phosphorus ratio also increases the risk of DOD in these dogs. Therefore, large breed puppy foods typically contain less calcium than do “regular” puppy foods and the manufacturers keep the ratio of calcium and phosphorus within fairly narrow limits. Veterinary nutritionists don’t agree as to what the exact levels of these nutrients should be, but the following recommendations are fairly typical.

puppy food, large breed puppy food

While feeding a large breed puppy food does not completely eliminate a dog’s risk for DOD (genetics plays a big part as well), offering the right amount of the right diet is very important.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Eric Isselee / via Shutterstock

Comments  5

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  • Slowing Growth
    03/01/2013 10:11pm

    I wasn't aware that fewer calories and keeping a critter lean would actually slow growth. It makes sense that not enough calories would cause all sorts of health problems, retarded growth included.

    I'd be curious if this rationale would also be true for large-breed cats such as a Maine Coon.

  • 06/12/2013 08:43pm

    I think you've misread paragraph 3. The idea is to purposely limit calories in order to slow growth. Slowing growth in a large breed puppy does not [u]cause[/u] health problems - it [u]prevents[/u] them. Too many calories (not too little) cause problems. You want your large breed puppy to carry no more weight than his little bones can handle.

    I would add that you don't want to over-exercise your large breed puppy either. Muscles developed from too much walking, fetching, etc., can crowd bone growth. Our new English Creme Golden Retriever won't be taken on walks longer than 5-15 minutes until he's at least 8 months old and I won't be trying to get him to catch a frisbee until he's fully developed to avoid stress on those little bones. We weren't so informed with our 10 year old Golden who needed double-hip surgery before she was two and now at 10 has painful arthritis.

    As for the Maine Coon, you should always watch those calories. They'll get big enough without overfeeding. Our Maine Coon never weighed more than 16 pounds before he died from lymphoma at 6-1/2. Our two Ragdolls can get heavy too (not as much as a Maine Coon), but I've limited their calories since they came home at eight weeks. They're now almost three and both male and female are very healthy at about 13 pounds. (We have four cats that we allow to graze all day on a maximum of two cups of food per day (1/2c each cat). The other two, an American House Cat - 13yrs old, and a Norwegian Mountain Cat - 10yrs old, weigh less than 12 pounds each.)

    As Dr. Coates said, be more concerned about what goes into your pet's food, how much of it, what isn't in the food and how it's processed. Look for human grade ingredients - if you won't eat intestines and rotten chicken parts neither should your pets.

  • Proper nutrition & growth
    03/03/2013 08:18pm

    We have a great dane/pyrenees puppy and an older terrier mix. We have been feeding a mix of puppy and adult food (Buffalo Blue) to both of them for the past few months, in an effort to slow our puppy's growth, but while still providing enough food and nutrition to our older dog. Is this wrong? I'm concerned that we are not giving our puppy enough of the nutrients she needs to grow healthy and strong. Would it be better to give her JUST puppy food, seeing as there actually IS already a lower caloric count?

  • 03/04/2013 08:35pm

    I think it would be better to go with only a large breed puppy food. Diets designed for adults and puppies differ in a number of ways so it is unlikely that a mixture would ideally meet a growing dog's needs.

  • Nutritional Puppy Food
    03/19/2013 11:08am

    Really nice information. A puppy would need extra nutritional diets with higher quantity of protein and other minerals & vitamins that would support rapid growth. Finding the best food for your puppy is significantly indispensable so that your new family member could make a grand start and grow healthily.